THERE ARE TIMES in hockey when three guys come together and form a line that gets talked about for a long time. The Flyers have had a few of those. The most recent was called the Legion of Doom, featuring Eric Lindros, John LeClair, and Mikael Renberg. They were a combination of size, skill and determination. There was another memorable line from the past called the LCB line - Bobby Clarke, Bill Barber and Reggie Leach.
So, it doesn't happen very often, and it might be a stretch to say there is another one forming now.
But it was hard to watch Mike Richards, Mike Knuble and Simon Gagne last night in the second period of the Flyers' 6-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres in the Wachovia Center and not think back to one of those lines.
For a full minute and 12 seconds, it seemed like there was nothing Buffalo could do to keep that line from controlling play, finding ways to win puck battles and eventually setting up Braydon Coburn for a momentum-shifting goal.
"That was, as a line, the best shift I have ever been part of," Gagne said. "A minute, minute-15, getting chance after chance, maybe a little bit tired at the end, but finding a way to get that goal.
"That was a big goal for us at that time and it was five guys on the ice, working hard for each other and not quitting on nothing."
It's the kind of play that can strike fear in opponents. Especially considering that the second line of Jeff Carter, Joffrey Lupul and Scott Hartnell has been as dominant in different ways for stretches of the season.
And it makes the prospect of a player like Danny Briere returning to the lineup after a lengthy injury intriguing. If coach John Stevens can find a combination that works just as well, or even new combinations that can work like that and not mess up the chemistry, the Flyers will become a deep and dangerous offensive team.
Richards had a career-high five-point night on a shorthanded goal - his sixth of the season and 18th of his career - three assists and an unassisted, open-net goal at the end.
Knuble added a power-play goal, his 20th, and Glen Metropolit, Coburn and Darrell Powe (open net) each added a goal to the effort, one of the better home performances this year against a quality opponent that managed to outshoot the Flyers, 42-36, and score three goals on Marty Biron.
The Flyers got the effort they wanted, the points they needed, and set themselves up nicely for Pittsburgh tomorrow at home. And the best part of the night was the fact that Stevens didn't even start Richards with Knuble and Gagne, but had him out with Scottie Upshall and Powe because he wanted some jump in the lineup for the opening minutes.
"We did it in New York the other day and we did it again [last night]," Stevens said. "You've got three straight-line players there. 'Richie's' a veteran guy and [Upshall and Powe] are going to get in on the forecheck, and I just wanted to get the north game going, get pucks deep and establish a forecheck right away."
The game plan worked and was just what the Flyers needed coming off a 3-day break.
They jumped all over Buffalo from the start and put some solid chances together. Metropolit managed to end the quest for the early lead, tipping in a shot from Arron Asham that put the Flyers up, 1-0, going into the locker room.
Early in the second, Jaroslav Spacek tied the game with a shot that ticked off Biron's glove before going in, but the Flyers' response was immediate.
Richards, Gagne and Knuble, with Coburn and Matt Carle on the points, pinned the Sabres in their defensive zone for 1:12, winning puck battle after puck battle in dramatic fashion before Gagne got the puck out to Coburn, who had pinched in. The Flyers' defenseman one-timed the pass behind Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, giving the Flyers a 2-1 lead.
"That was the game plan going in. Get some cycle shifts going and luckily [Coburn] finished it off," Richards said. "That was a good shift; it got the crowd into it a little bit. It was good to see [Coburn] top it off and we got momentum from there."
With Powe in the box for hooking and a delayed call coming on Andrew Alberts, Buffalo's Spacek got his second goal and tied the game for the second time.
Buffalo went right back on the man advantage, but Richards showed his shorthanded skills again, 14:03 into the second.
On another rush up ice, Richards went to the net and was driven from behind into Miller by Craig Rivet. Richards was flagged for goalie interference, and Buffalo scored at 19:29, tying the game, 3-3.
Buffalo started to take the momentum and the shot count from the Flyers, pushing the difference to 26-34 at one point in the third. But then the Richards line got going on the power play, forcing a turnover on the forecheck and setting up Knuble's goal with 6:09 remaining.
Richards scored his second goal on the empty net and Powe added his empty-net goal to seal the game.
With Briere's return, expected next week, comes the decision of where to play one of the top centers in the league.
"I think what's important to consider right now is whatever is best for the hockey team is what we're going to do," Stevens said. "When Danny comes back, it's only going to make us better. He has the versatility to play in a lot of different situations.
"If that [Richards] line continues to play at a high level and it's best to keep them together to help the team, we will. There is no question in my mind that if Danny is healthy he'll help us wherever he plays." *